Vision Task Force Worship Servvice –  September 30, 2012 –


Call to Worship –  from Benjamin Mays


It must be borne in mind that the tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach.  It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream.  It is not a disaster to be unable to capture your ideal, but it is a disaster to have no ideal to capture.  It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for.  Not failure, but low aim is sin. (Let us together see how high we can reach)


Story for All Ages –  “Rocks, Pebbles, Sand –  Mark W. Harris


Once upon a time there was an old philosopher with white hair and glasses.  He was very wise.  One day he said to his students, “Today we are going to make an experiment”.

As he stood before the class. He said, “I am going to place some stones in this jar, one by one, all the way to the top, and he proceeded to do so.

(When the jar is full ask) :  Then he said to them, “Is this jar full?”

Everybody answered: “Yes”.

He waited for a few seconds and added: “Really?”

Then, he bent again and took a dish filled with little stones or pebbles and poured these little pebbles on the big stones,

The little pebbles went between the stones down to the bottom of the jar. The old Philosopher raised his eyes again towards his audience and asked:

“Is this jar full?”.

Again they agreed that it was.

Then he bent a third time and this time, took out from under the table a

bucket of sand. With attention, he poured the sand into the jar.

The sand filled the spaces between the big stones and the

little pebbles. Once again, he asked:

“Is this jar full?”. This time, the sand filled up everything else, and they all had to answer, yes.

Then he  asked, “What big truth does this experiment show to us?” .

This is your life.  The big rocks are the important things – your family, your partner, your health, your children,  your friends – ( For you kids – your parents, your health, your brothers and sisters) – anything that is so important, that if you lost it, you would be nearly destroyed.

The pebbles are the other things in life that matter, but on a smaller scale.  The pebbles represent things like your job, your house and your car.  For kids it might be your schoolwork, sports, and your room.  The sand is everything else.  The small stuff –  your toys – this is for both adults and children, because adults these days have many of their own toys – called smart phones.

“The big truth that this experiment shows to us is”:

You have to put the big stones in the jar first.  You have to pay attention to the important things in life first.  What if you put in the sand or the little pebbles in first?   Something very important will not fit in.

If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, material things, you will never have room for the things that are truly important.

So do not forget to ask to yourself this question:

“Which are the BIG STONES IN MY LIFE?

Adults have to remember to play with their children, take their partner out to dinner or a movie, and kids have to remember to  learn everything they can about the world, listen to parents, and be nice to your friends.  There is always time for working extra hours, cleaning the house, or watching TV or playing video games.  Take care of the rocks first – the things that really matter,  the rest is just pebbles and sand”


Introduction to the Vision Task Force Process –  Sue Sours


Welcome to our outdoor service..

My name is Sue Sours and I began attending First Parish in 1991.  I’ve been here as a 20-something.  As a newly married couple. As a family with young children. As a parent of a teen and a near-teen. As a committee member. As not a committee member. As a resident of Watertown. As a resident of a different town. those are my perspectives.


I’m here today as part of the vision task force, a group formed to lead the congregation through forming long-term goals. We’ll hear from each member of the group, as they share some of the ideas that have been mentioned in committee surveys and canvas suppers last year.


So let’s start by looking back at the past. and  then ahead to the future, and thinking of different perspectives..


We are here outside to take a look at our building, and our grounds and our congregation from a different perspective – from the outside looking in.  After the service we’ll have the opportunity to walk a few blocks to the church’s parsonage on Marshall St, which is another building owned by our congregation and used to house the minister and his family.  So we have the chance to look at all the property owned by First Parish, and we’ll do it from the outside today.


Why do we want to look at ourselves from this outside perspective? Inside might be more comfy! 🙂 One reason is to think about how we at fpw appear to others outside of this congregation. They might see us as the folks that meet in that odd non-church- looking building – what are we about?. I once heard this building referred to as a russian tea house. And I have to admit, I lived here for a few years passing by it on my way to the library or CVS never knowing what it was.  I still describe it as that building near the CVS parking lot.  It just does not look like a church.


And then there’s Unitarian-Universalism.  I had never heard of until I met Clint in 1990. So who are we UUs? Why are we here? What does it mean to be a UU in Watertown?.


Let’s look back for a minute. From 1842 to 1975 the congregation of First Parish saw large church with a steeple 175 feet high and about 100 pews diminish in to a congregation of about a dozen and the building maintenance of an old building  overwhelming them. And those dozen were brave enough to realize that they had to move out , call the wrecking ball in…And they moved out of that building and into this this building behind us where they saw a new future for themselves in the former social hall. They settled in and survived with a small membership and an informal, comfortable atmosphere.


And then a group was so motivated by the lack of accessibility that they challenged the status quo and safety of being a small church where the ave Sun. attendance was 30. They rejected incomplete solutions such as just putting a ramp on the front of the building;  They rejected the idea that money could not be raised. That fpw should not and could not grow, should not take on new challenges. This caring and thoughtful congregation wanted more. And so in 1996 an elevator, a meeting room, an accessible bathroom and more were born.


And then later there was another project in 2003 to improve the sanctuary space, sound, fix the ceiling/roof.  And that’s just in the last 50 yrs!


We find ourselves here 2012,.. 125 members, a budget that has.tripled to 270,000 , . Interesting programs. Rockin music , green sanctuary, people looking to make a difference,..There’s a lot to be proud of here!


Do we sit back and just enjoy what we have? No!


Because to be a UU is to be part of an interdependent web. To challenge assumptions. To bring our mission out to the world. To share what is a UU and how we can make sense out of today’s world. How can we let others in Watertown know what First Parish is about? How can we show others that there is an community here that is concerned about social action ? That wants sustainability to be part of everything we do? And more!

But how do we ensure that First Parish will be around in the future?


And that’s where you come in. Put your rock in the jar  and let your voice be heard!


“Building a House on Rocks”   Mark Harris

(Margaret and Mark introduce interdependent web of yarn)

Once upon a time there was an old philosopher with white hair and glasses who was very wise.  He remembered that Jesus once said that a wise man builds his house upon rock, not upon sand, so that the house will stand forever.  The big stones in our story earlier represent the cornerstones upon which this church stands:  the building, the grounds, the programs, the way we govern ourselves, and our financial base,  Each of these is vital.  Our beautiful historic building is our sanctuary, and provides a community center for Watertown and beyond.  Our grounds offer peace, recreation, and rest – a small oasis in the town.  Our programs – worship services and R.E. classes, beautiful music, opportunities to serve others – all enrich us and help us to build a free faith.  The way we govern ourselves invites us to build meaningful relationships and prompts us to grow in understanding.  And financial contributions are expressions of what we most value in the world, and how we support those values.  Strong finances let us uphold compassionate ideals in the world outside our doors.


These are the rocks that make our church strong, and upon which we stand.  But there is room for more.  In fact, the foundation stones are strengthened and held in place by pouring in the smaller stones that represent the new ideas and dreams of each and every member.  Your dreams are part of our foundation.  What excites you?  A memorial garden?  A new heating system?


Maybe you are not a big dreamer.  Perhaps you just would like enough spoons in the kitchen, or a fresh coat of paint in an office.  Those wishes are the sand – it, too, is important, and keeps the foundation firm.  But you can’t have pebbles or sand without first having your foundation stones.  We have to show up, pledge, support, and give time, energy and resources to this congregation.  Giving ourselves over to the rocks underlying our presence here is what allows us to dream of bigger things.

The book  of Proverbs says, Where there is no vision, the people perish.  The Vision Committee of First Parish is charged with not letting us perish!  Their task is to articulate what will keep our congregation alive with purpose.  And they will enlist your help in this.  The members of this committee are going to speak briefly about each foundational area, and then after they have all spoken we will ask for your dreams related to each area.  You will just shout out responses.  If you especially like one of the ones listed on the insert, use that one.  This will happen five times.  But that’s not all.  Each of the speakers is also in possession of a ball of yarn.  Whoever shouts out the first idea or dream will immediately have this ball of yarn tossed her or his way.  The way this works is that the Vision Committee member will hold on to the end of the yarn, and toss the ball to the dreamer – who will then grasp the yarn tightly, and then  toss the ball on to the next person, and so on.  It will not work unless each person holds on to the yarn before tossing the remaining ball.  Remember, this will happen five separate times!  In the end, all the dreams will be interconnected, and layered, and maybe even tangled.  That is okay, and even appropriate.  Each aspect of our congregational life depends upon another.


It is important that we learn to see all that upholds us and connects us.  There is a Simpson’s episode in which Rev. Lovejoy offers Bart and Lisa a bowl of Unitarian ice cream.  They are all excited, but discover the bowl is empty.  That is how some people perceive and portray our UU creedlessness.  They think this faith is empty.  But we know it is not.  It is full to bursting.  It contains your journey, and mine, and your grandmother’s and my son’s, too.  It is full of the dreams of people who have too much integrity to say things they don’t really believe, and whose love of their brothers and sisters prevents them from accepting close-minded doctrines.


Don’t ask what the world needs.  Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.



Vision Committee – What Are Your Dreams?


1. Our Building – Bobbie Brown

Our Building—a Time Line


1889:  Designed by Charles Brigham to be the social hall for First Parish in an era—think of it—before radio, movies, or TV, this building became the venue for dances, poetry readings, Sunday School plays, recitals, and numerous social events for a vibrant congregation.  It served well through decades, witness to changes in Watertown and the FPW congregation.


1970s:  Members recognized that the Parish could no longer sustain their 1842 Gothic-style church on the corner of Church and Summer Streets, yet they wanted to continue First Parish as a congregation.  The solution: lease the corner property and meet for Sunday services in the Social Hall.  The first floor became the sanctuary; I hope this space did feel like a sanctuary to those resilient folks who had made what must have been a wrenching decision.


1996:  The congregation again realized the need for change, this time to adapt the building for handicapped accessibility. They launched a fund drive to finance the installation of a meeting room, ramp, elevator, and bathroom thus opening more possibilities as a gathering place for FPW and other local organizations.


2003:  Cracks—in the sanctuary walls and ceiling.  “Well, it’s an old building; you might expect a crack here and there.”  “Yes, but wouldn’t it be nice to freshen the space—it could use a coat of paint.”  One thing led to another, the engineers and architect were called in and figured out that those cracks were due to the walls spreading outwards at the roof; if not addressed, well…   So, once again the congregation rallied round for a capital drive for an extensive restoration project.  The results:  our lovely, warm, welcoming space with the curved steps leading to the chancel.  A few years later, to compliment this refurbished space, members and friends replaced the 60 red sanctuary chairs with 136 new, blue chairs—more than doubling seating capacity.


2012:  At 123 years, the First Parish building is among the grande dames of Watertown’s architecture, sitting on the Church Street slope, awaiting its next adaptation.  The congregation has grown as has the staff.  It is time to look again at the sanctuary, the RE space, the office space, the kitchen.  How can these be updated, refigured to better serve and strengthen our worship, programs, and dreams for further programs as we continue to serve one another and our greater community?


2. Our Grounds –  Izzy Tappan-deFrees


Good Morning. My name is Izzy Tappan-deFrees. I have been a member of First Parish since 1997 when I was married in this church to my wife Beth. We were married here for a 2nd time in 2004 when it became legal for us to marry in Massachusetts. We dedicated our son here in 1999. I have, over time, been very active in Religious Education, in the Parish Committee, with the annual Talent Show, in the choir and music program, leading summer services, in the Student Minister and Vision committees here. This church means a lot to me and my family.

We meet today in public view, on the grounds of First Parish that we perhaps think too little of…

This open space is our public face – the first impression that we can make to our community.

This location has served First Parish well for over 3 centuries – in being a central, welcoming spot to the Watertown community.

A few years ago, this land supported a large public demonstration of support when we needed to rededicate our welcoming rainbow flag that had been burned – and in doing so, we turned an act of violence into a public statement of our faith and belief in open hearts.

This earth is somewhat sacred in that it is already the resting place for the ashes of one of our longest standing members. It is also the soil that nutures a memorial tree planted to honor one of our youngest members lost.

We have heard, and listed on today’s program insert, several wonderful dreams for improving our grounds, and I hope you can read those over before we reach the activity that will end of our service today.

But, I will wrap up my thoughts here quickly, by asking you to silently ponder 4 questions:

Question 1 – What more can we do to publically honor our outdoor space, this most valuable of our physical assets?

Question 2  – Can you envision a way to grow our worship space so that reaches into the outdoors and/or fully calls the wider community to enter in?

Question 3 – Would you support efforts to improve the environmental health of these grounds so that our building can do less fighting with nature?

Question 4 – What are your dreams for this land where we now stand?


3.  Our Programs – Mike Anctil


Hello:  My name is Mike Anctil.  I have been regularly attending FWP for the past 6 years.  You might know me as the one of the “green people” in our community who “gently nudges” J you to act mindfully with environmentally friendly behavior.  Hopefully this inspires you to reach out and spread the message of sustainable practices in your daily lives.  My aim is to learn to tread lightly on the planet; and pass on techniques or practices to a wider community.  By the way, I’m like this at work, with my extended family and when I’m with “non-UU” friends… Trust me, I often feel like a Dr. Seuss character, the Lorax.  J


Today, I stand before you to speak on behalf of the mission & vision task force about the programs here at First Parish Watertown.  These programs provide the means for us to serve one another directly in our FPW UU community and reach out to the wider community.  Like the lessons I have learned from others who have “gone green” before me, and endeavor to pass those lessons learned forward, the mission & vision task force has received feedback from you that at we as a community want to reach out to the wider community to pass on our faith and spread the good news of a tolerant religious tradition; with its personal and non-dogmatic search for spiritual truth and meaning.


When I think of the programs at First Parish, I first think of Religious Education for both children and adults.  Of course we teach children.  What they learn here has a far reaching effect:  in their Sunday classes, Coming of Age, OWL and youth group meetings to name a few, they learn about spirituality, other faiths and themselves.  As they grow, they influence other students and teachers in classrooms of their “day” schools and in their social interactions on the playground.  They reach out in their actions and pass on what’s learned here.   I am so proud of my daughter, Lizzy, who grew up in this tradition.  I was blown away by her coming of age “What I believe” testimony in that building behind you.  She continues to take what she’s learned here wherever she goes.


Adult learning is comprised of many opportunities as well.  First, the sermons we hear on Sundays, when we can take the time from a busy schedule and reflect on the powerful and thought provoking words from all who stand at this pulpit.  Adult classes, about UU-ism, immigration, yoga, spiritual autobiography, simplicity, sustainability and more are offered by the minister, ministerial interns and others.


The Fellowship committee contributes with programs like the newcomer breakfast, New UU, new member dinner, picnics, the Service auction, Annual Dinners and Talent shows.


The social action committee contributes with the social action community dinner, the food bank support, Friday night supper club and benefit concerts.

The programs of fellowship and social action committees get to the heart of UU-ism “service is its law” and reach out to the wider community.


Being a part of Green Sanctuary committee has been a transforming experience for me.   I believe we all (gesture with hands) have all learned a great deal in our pursuit of the green sanctuary accreditation.  There have been efficiency improvements in that building (point), the parsonage and in many of your homes.  Behaviors have been modified by all of you.  I feel spiritually moved of the influence we have had on each other as part of this program.  The overarching theme of which is learn sustainable practices, incorporate these practices in you daily life and talk about it, spread the word, reach out!  Reach out!


Like Sue, I had not heard of the UU church until I met (my spouse) Anna.  Thankfully for so many reasons, the UU faith has been a great fit for me.  Anna reached out to me and introduced me to this tradition.  I look forward to further reaching out to others…


As you sit in this tent, ponder this:  Are these programs at FPW meeting our spiritual, growth & development and outreach needs?  Does our building, our grounds you see before you, our governance and our pledges which you will hear about shortly help us attain our outreach potential? How might all these efforts be coordinated to better serve and strengthen our impact on this planet earth, as we continue to serve one another and our greater community?


4. Our Governance –  Patsy Sampson

My name is Patsy Sampson. I have been coming to First Parish for a year.  Being a member of the Vision Task Force (since last April) is my first entry into First Parish’s functioning self — its way of involving its members in making it all work.

On the Vision Task Force, we have called this process of involvement in church function — governance — sort of like FPW’s central nervous system — or its intranet — the way all of us get to know each other, and as a group, how we share and implement our dreams for fellowship and caring in our community and beyond.

I have begun to see how it all works (and sometimes doesn’t). There are lots of networks in FPW tying me to you and you to you. Your good friend is a member here so you catch up each week at the Sunday service.  You enjoy the fellowship and singing, so you sing in the choir. You like to be part of one of FPW’s annual events – the talent show or the auction. You like to volunteer for refreshments after the service because you can connect with others while washing the dishes or putting out the food.

If you belong to a committee, you undoubtedly have gotten to know a few more members than you would have if you came only for Sunday services.  For example, raise your hand if you are on one committee.  Now raise your hand if you are on more than one committee.  If you were to represent — with the fingers on your hand — each person you have met because you served on a committee together … you might find many hands worth!

The point is that not only does this church work better because of what committees do to keep things functioning (membership, fellowship, worship, ministry, etc.) but the way we relate to each other is that much stronger for these inter-connections.  We are as caring and strong a fellowship as the connections we have made here.  Specifically, how can we improve our governance?  What are your visions for better governance?

5. Our Finances –  Michael McCarthy


My name is Michael McCarthy and I’ve been a member of First Parish Church for about 10 years. One of the aspects that attracted me to the UU church is the autonym from a centrally controlled entity.  We, the members of the congregation, decide the fate of our wants and dreams.  One of the ways we identify ourselves is how we spend our money.  Many of you may not know the positive impact you’ve had on our church and our community and I’d like to share a few of them with you.


The Wright Fund assists those individuals in the community that are experiencing financial difficulties who cannot pay their bills due to limited income, overwhelming bills, sometimes brought on by medical illnesses and unforeseen circumstances, such as  lost jobs or sick kids.  This year we will give out nearly $14,000 and last year we gave out over $12,000.  This money comes from the endowment, grants, fund raising and the generosity of you. These funds have an immediate positive impact on those who desperately need assistance.


Annually we have a pledge drive which pays for the operating budget of our church.  It helps maintain the upkeep of the church, pays the salary of the church staff, and funds the various committees of our church.  The projected amount of the current pledge drive is $118,000.  Five years ago it was $109,000 and 10 years ago it was only $64,000.  So we’ve nearly doubled our pledges in 10 years.  This allows us to be less dependent on our endowment and more on our pledges.  Your generosity has allowed us to expand our services.


Another source of income we’ve had is the Capital Fund Drives.  In 2003, we raised about $380,000 for a new church roof, stained glass, structural steel supports and a complete renovation of the sanctuary, including ceiling, walls and rebuilding of the stage.  Because of your generosity, we have a warm and welcoming structure we all can be proud of.  In 1996, we had another Capital Drive where we built the elevator, the new entry on Summer Street, the DRE’s office and the conference room.   These additions allowed us to expand our capabilities so we could offer more to our church and our community.


We all should be proud of the way we identify ourselves through the distribution of our funds.  As a part of the Vision Task Force, we’d like your opinion on the way we spend your money.  Are there areas where you think we should allocate more of your money?

Finally, I’d like to thank all of you for your generosity throughout the years, especially during these economic times. You’ve donated your time and money, neither of which there seems to be enough.  Thank you.




Summation –  Margaret Weis


Our lives here at First Parish are so rich with connection and interdependence. How great is it to see all of our dreams and visions and how they are connected to one another? How exciting is it to embark on this new leg of the journey together?


In our worship and congregational life together, we are conscious that each individual is important and sacred. We affirm the power and potential of each person to make a difference, and how powerful we can be when we join together.


We also affirm the power of community. Anthropologist Margaret Mead once advised never to doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.


Indeed, my friends.


Today we have given you a lot of information, a lot to think about, and a lot to mull over in your minds. But I also invite you to mull it over in your hearts.


There is a lifeblood of this place. There is an energy that flows in and throughout it that keeps it going, and in so many ways that energy is all of you.


How do we keep the heart of this place beating? How will we live out our values as Unitarian Universalists and share those values with this beautiful and hurting world? How will we shape our physical presence as a way that says to the world that we value the principles of justice, equity and love for all?

How will we do so in a way that communes with the natural world and is ever conscious of the footprints we leave in our path?


I ask these questions as an open invitation for each of you and for us all to ponder the power of this place.


Think on these things.


Think of the power of this place and its vital role in your life, this community, and the world.

Just as the stones you hold in your hands are small but can withstand great force.


We may be a small community, but we are mighty.


Spoken Meditation –  Margaret Weis


I invite you to join me in a brief guided meditation. I invite you to close your eyes, or focus them gently on the ground ahead of you, or on the stone you hold in your hand.


Breathe in … breathe out.


Draw your attention to the stone you hold in your hand. As you hold the stone in your hand, feel it there … really feel it. Is it smooth?


Ragged in places?


Feel it’s shape in your hand … Is it straight and pointy? rounded?


Imagine that this stone holds all of your experiences here, all of those things you have experienced in this place. Perhaps today is your first time at this church, or perhaps it’s your hundredth, but imagine that this stone holds all of the emotions and experiences you have had in this place.


Excitement. Regret. Welcome. Joy. Challenges. Boundary-stretching. Learning. Teaching. Growing.


All of these live inside this stone. They help breathe life into it.




Now feel for any cracks in the stone, any areas of roughness or jagged parts. Perhaps these parts are the times you’ve come through the doors of this place carrying your sorrows or your burdens. Barely scraping yourself out of bed on a gloomy Sunday morning, to sit here, in loving community.


Feel how these rough parts on the stone give way to smoothness.


Perhaps those smoother places represent the greeting you received from an old friend, or a new one. Perhaps they represent the feelings you’ve had during musical meditations or hearing the sharing of another’s sorrow during candles.


Remember those times. Feel the energy they hold there, in your stone.


Now imagine that your stone holds all the hopes you have for this place – the way you envision it as you continue to come here week after week, year after year.




Take a moment and think of the burdens of this place, the areas in need of smoothing.


Feel the weight of the stone.


The weight of joyful times and sad ones. The weight of loneliness and the weight of community.


Take a moment and feel the energy and potential in your stone, and in your presence here.




A stone cast into water creates ripples that radiate … what impact might you have?



Closing Words – from Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark


We should go with our lives where we most need to go and where we are most needed . . . In a world where there is so much drudgery, so much grief, so much emptiness and fear and pain, our gladness in our work is as much needed as we ourselves need to be glad.  If we keep our eyes and ears open, our hearts open, we will find the place surely.